Analysis Of General Strain Theory: A Critical Review Of Journal Articles

Background of General Strain Theory

The general strain theory had been developed in the year 1992 in the area of criminology by Robert Agnew. Since the story has been developed it has been subjected to a significant amount of contribution. The theory has been successful in accumulating empirical evidence and therefore has been a solid theory in the field of criminology. In addition the theory by offering explanations of occurrence out of criminal behavior has expanded its primary scope.  However it has been argued by Agnew (2014) that there are several flaws which are present in relation to the general strain theory towards determining the case of crime and supporting public policy making towards addressing criminal behavior. The paper describes how the general strain theory functions in relation to analyzing criminal behavior and whether policy makers should take the theory into consideration while creating public policy.

The application of the general strain theory is done usually by analysing the impact of strain on crime. There are many hurdles which the researchers face in order to understand why only a few among hundreds of strain result in criminal activities. The article provided by Agnew describes how conditions and events in relation to strain lead to relationship with crime. The most likely result of crime is train when crime is seen as in high magnitude, unjust, associated with little social control and indulging creation of incentive for pressure towards engaging in criminal activities. Therefore in the light of these characteristics it can be stated that a few types of strains are not related to grams which also includes the kinds on which research is was based in relation to the stain theory. In the same way there are few types of strain which have being ignored by the empirical researchers in old stain theory which are actually related to crime.

It has been argued by the general strain theory that stressors or strain enhance the occurrence of negative emotions like frustration and anger. Crime is one possible response as these emotions ask for corrective action in a pressurizing manner. When a person indulges in a criminal activity he or she may do so for the purpose of reducing strain for instance stealing money, seeking revenge and using drugs for the purpose of alleviating negative emotion. The strain theory provided by Agnew builds upon the old general stain theories in various ways which includes identification of various new classes of strain such as losing a positive stimuli (friend or a partner), a negative stimuli being present ( mental or physical assaults) and a new class of goal blockage ( not being able to achieve justice goals). One of the biggest strengths of the general strain theory provided by Agnew is the newly developed specification in relation to the various categories of strain. However the strength is also one of the biggest weaknesses of the theory. The area of the theory is so wide that it is very difficult for the researchers due to the lack of guidance to analyse the particular kind of strain leading to a crime in relation to research. There are hundreds of strain which may be considered under the primary category of strain listed through the strain theory as it has been reflected in the contemporary inventories of chronic stressors and daily stressful life hassles or events. Moreover even the provided inventories are not able to appropriately analyse various strains as described by the theory. In addition it is very difficult to falsify this theory in the light of its broadness. It has been stated by Agnew that where a theory can be defined in several other ways it can be stated that the theory is virtually unfalsifiable. In the theory there is always an unknown measure which might salvage it. Therefore what is needed is that the theory specifically makes it clear the kinds of strain which is most probable of leading to delinquency and crime.

Empirical Evidence of General Strain Theory

The article provides that strain means a relationship in which an individual is not treated in a way he or she would want to be treated by others. However the definition of strain is taken by researchers in various other ways for instance a few researchers referred to stain as an objective condition or event, few others consider strain as individual evaluation of a condition or an event and others as emotional reaction to a condition or event. The article proposes the following definition in order to clarify the actual meaning of strain. Strains objectively mean a condition or event which is not preferred a disliked by most of the members belonging to a group. So when it is stated that a person is experiencing strain it means that such person is subjected to a condition or event which is actually not liked or preferred by members belonging to their group. It has been provided by the article that there are certain kinds of events which are most likely to be classified under objective strain and result into subjective strain.

Such condition or event consists of the loss of positive stimuli, goal blockage, or a negative stimuli being present. However in the given situation the primary emphasis provided by the general stain theory is that it is because of strain in the society that the individuals are pressurize to indulge in activities which are criminal in nature so that they can get rid of their strain. Moreover many individuals are still subjected to strain for instance teachers, parents and criminal justice officers prefer traditional approaches towards sanctioning individuals which may be disliked by them.  The theory provided by Agnew suggests that the way in which these sanctions are applied can be altered so that the likelihood of them being seen as unjust, of high magnitude, reducing social control and providing incentives for pressure to indulge in crime can be reduced.

On the other hand it has been argued by Siegel (2016) that there are several flaws which are present in the general strain theory and there are several other ways and motives through which criminal activities are motivated. It has been argued by the article that the strain theory over emphasizes on the involvement of social class in deviance and crime. It has been argued that the application the strain theory is best applied in relation to the lower class as it is found that there is a struggle among them in relation to the lack of resources towards reconciling their goals. However on the examination of the broad spectrum of criminal and deviant activities, inadequate account of evidence in relation to extending the narrow scope of street crimes have been provided by the strain theory. For instance the strain theory does not deal with activities such as White Collar crime which are very popular among the upper and Middle classes who have sufficient materials to fulfill their needs. There can be a significantly sophisticated motivation behind the commission of a white collar crime by an offender. The inherent goodness of people is assumed by the strain theory and therefore believes that only social factors drive people to deviance and crime. However as argued by the article this situation is not always present and true. This situation is balanced by the Control Theory by providing and opposite perspective. The theory provides a believe that there is no inherent goodness among the people and until and unless there are social control in place such as policing these people will continue to commit criminal and deviant activities. The cases where many highly educated directors of companies indulge in fraudulent activities is better explained by the application of this theory as then motivation is not the basic need of money but greed. In addition the interpersonal and intrapersonal aspects which have the potential of being examined via symbolic interactionist approach is neglected by the strain theory although a comprehensive explanation in relation to Macro social structure and crime and deviance since provided by it. The approach provides more emphasis on the idea of socialization and how symbols and meanings attached to a certain ideal behaviour is influenced by peer groups. On the other hand the labelling theory depicts how a person within the social circle can be labelled as a criminal based on the values imposed on him by the circle.

Thus through above discussion it is clear that the strain theory is not perfect in relation to deriving the reasons why crime is committed. However the findings of the theory in relation to public policy making cannot be ignored completely. The theory may be applied very effectively in the process of public policy making in relation to criminal justice system if its application is done in an appropriate manner. The theory only can be used for the purpose of designing public policies in such areas where its application has been evidently justified. Therefore it can be evidently stated that the application of the general strain theory is best suited in criminal activities which are in relation to Street crimes. However when it comes to the criminal activities taking place in the higher classes within the society the application of this theory may not provide the desired results.


Agnew, R. (2014). The role of the social environment in General Strain Theory. The nurture versus biosocial debate in criminology: On the origins of criminal behavior and criminality, 184-198.

Siegel, L. J. (2016). Criminology: Theories, patterns and typologies. Boston. USA: Cengage.

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